Any comments or questions about this site, please contact Bob Zolnerzak at





Chapter XXV

            The scarcity of oxygen came about so slowly that hardly anyone realized how close they were to the time when the air would no longer contain enough of the life-sustaining gas. They looked around them and saw their friends and families working and playing and breathing in a normal manner, and they forgot about the black days marked in the month of June, just five months away. They had grown up in a world of science, and they trusted the scientists to think of something, just as they trusted the scientists when they rode in their helicopters, just as they trusted the designers of the recreation globes which they climbed into in order to see pictures of summer resorts, sporting events, or the latest movie projected on the inner wall of the sphere around them, just as they trusted the quality of the food they squeezed from their plastic containers.
            The scientists were the ones who had finally convinced the world that war was impractical, useless, and avoidable. The scientists were responsible for the mild success of laws regulating governments passed by the Congress of Worlds. Scientists were responsible for the four-hour workday, retirements at fifty, drinking water augmented with synthetic vitamins, free medicine to all, sleep-teaching of the majority of schoolwork, mass psychological testing, and most of the recreational facilities. If the scientists were the ones who did all this, surely a little thing like lack of oxygen wasn't enough to wipe the human race off the solar system. Practically everyone knew there was oxygen in combination with hydrogen in the most common substance on Earth: water.
            And the scientists were living up to the expectations of the population. In every major large seacoast city, huge water electrolyzers were being built. Gigantic structures, capable of handling tons of water a day, were constructed under the level of the ground so that the water, falling into the converter, would cool the atomic power plants which would produce the vast amounts of electricity necessary to tear the oxygen atom free from its clinging hydrogen atoms.
            Most of the inhabitants of mountainous regions knew that these converters were sorely needed. As the oxygen, heavier than air, dwindled, it tended to seek a lower level, and as a result some of the higher points in almost every country in the world gradually became depopulated. At first the lack of oxygen hadn't been noticeable, but then came a time when it seemed that any exertion made the people in the higher areas puff and pant as if they had run a long race. Many of the hill people blamed their new weakness on disease or old age, and many doctors, reluctant to start a panic, simply told these people that their hearts weren't as good as they used to be; but at the same time, they advised the older patients to move to a better place, and the seashore was advocated in some of the more severe cases of oxygen-starvation.
            What animals were left---for the animal population of the world had steadily decreased as the herbivores either died of starvation, or turned cannibal---after the green cover of the Earth had been destroyed, came off the slopes and the high plateaus to gather in places of more bountiful oxygen.
            More and more sea-bubbles were erected to handle the influx of people from the higher regions on the Earth's surface. Vincent Harrison had more business than he could handle.